Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Maple Leaf at the Brickyard

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter

Commemorating 100 years since the first Indianapolis 500 ran at the 2.5 oval track, achievements transpiring at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway composes a rich tapestry for those who conquered the highest plateaus on auto racing. Of course, this Brickyard history includes some special efforts presented by many enterprising Canadians.

At least 17 drivers of Canadian nationality have inserted themselves into the open wheel classic field. Started when Arran, Ontario's Pete Henderson drove a Maxwell to 6th in the 1916 Indianapolis 500, another early Indy contender was Ira Vail. Making his first Indy 500 start in 1919, Vail would make five Indy 500 appearances collecting a best 7th place in 1921.

A heyday for Canadian determination at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 1990s saw the Canadian flag carried to three top-2 finishes. Racing to 2nd place in 1992 and 1997, Scott Goodyear came just 0.043 seconds short of Indy 500 victory in 1992. Goodyear also had a pivotal role in the 1995 Indianapolis 500 with 10 laps remaining. Mistiming the pace car, Scott Goodyear was black-flagged for jumping the restart allowing fellow countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Future Formula 1 World Champion, Villeneuve is acknowledged as Canada's first official Indy 500 winner. 1946 Indy 500 winner George Robson was unofficially the Canada's initial connection to victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A British-born driver possessing a Canadian background, Robson was declared an American citizen.

While Jacques Villeneuve's win is the first and only official victory by a Canadian driver at the Indianapolis 500, an strong argument could be made that Paul Tracy should have been the rightful victor of the 2002 event. In the height of the nasty North American open wheel where IRL and the CART fought for supremacy, an uneasy truce existed to allow CART drivers as well as teams to enter the field of the Indianapolis 500 race. In the closing laps of the 2002 Indianapolis 500, the IRL regular Team Penske car driven by Helio Castroneves battled with the one-off of Team Green's effort driven by Canada's Paul Tracy. A caution with 2 laps remaining flew for a turn 1 crash while Tracy was side-by-side with Castroneves in the process of passing the Penske car. When the yellow flag fell, Paul Tracy and many others believed the pass occurred before the time of caution. However, a ruling by IRL officials instructed that the pass was not completed before the caution paving the way for Helio Castroneves to roll to victory. Team Green appealed the finish but the results for the 2002 Indy 500 would not change. Many continue to believe that IRL/CART politics factored heavily into Tracy losing the race.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter

Perhaps the most influential Canadian name surrounding the Indianapolis 500, Calgary's Stuart Hilborn success came outside of the open wheel cockpit. Selling teams on his then-radical concept of fuel injection, Hilborn's engineering expertise first propelled Troy Ruttman to a 1952 Indy 500 victory. By the 1960s, every Indy car would run Hilborn fuel injection systems.

Canada's history at the Indy 500 has been buoyed in the 2011 event that where the late Dan Wheldon took victory. Todd Malloy, a native from the province of Ontario and a graduate from the University of Waterloo, served as the Race Engineer on the winning #98 Bryan Herta Autosport entry. For 2012, Malloy will be partnered with French-Canadian IZOD INDYCAR driver Alex Tagliani driving the team's race car.

In 2012, Alex Tagliani returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the event's reigning pole sitter while sophomore driver James Hinchcliffe is intent on taking vengeance for losing the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honour to JR Hildebrand. Two Canadian drivers will take on the Brickyard aspiring to write new chapters in the books for the Indianapolis 500 that could involve the Maple Leaf flag back in the winner's circle.

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